Do you know someone who lies frequently about any and everything?
Have you caught someone in a few lies and wonder why they continue to engage in the behavior?
If so, you are obviously dealing with a pathological liar.
What most people fail to recognize about pathological liars is that they often lack the ability to empathize with others (walk in your shoes), feel guilty about their behavior, and have trouble controlling their innate impulse to lie. For most of us, it is very difficult to lie with a straight face and quite easy to feel guilty about the lie. But for someone with pathological behaviors, it is rather easy for them to lie while exhibiting behaviors and emotions that make the lie believable.
What is most interesting about pathological liars is that many of them know how to control their emotions in such a way that lying can look like the truth to us.
This article will explore ways to protect yourself from pathological liars and identify their modus operandi.
Pathological lying is very different from telling a “fib” or “white lie.” The lying is insidious, evil, and sometimes vindictive. Some individuals have developed skill in lying to others and have no fear or regret. Some may even lie to a Judge, police officer, therapist, psychiatrist, family member, spouse, supervisor, etc. with no remorse. They can also present as very calm or charming, provide appropriate eye contact, maintain normal breathing rhythms, be personable or friendly, and have calm body language. These individuals certainly fit the description of a sociopath and can be very dangerous.
The tragic reality for those who work with, live with, or know a pathological liar is that they are almost always victims. Sometimes you are a part of a lie and may not even know it. Other times, you may know the person is lying, but due to the person being personable and friendly, you may struggle to even consider the fact that maybe you are being lied to.
In other cases, you might also struggle to convince others that a respected or liked person is in fact lying. As a result of some pathological liars displaying charming, intelligent, and sociable behaviors, most of society is blinded to their obvious social, emotional, and cognitive deficits.
There are certainly ways to protect yourself from a destructive person who sends whirlpools of confusion into your life. You should take every lie seriously and strive to remember:
- Avoid engaging the pathological liar: If you sense that you are being lied to, perhaps you are. We all have an “internal compass” that signals trouble or peace, truth or fiction. Trust that. There are situations in which you might feel someone is being untrue but later find out they were telling the truth. But in many cases, we, as humans, are good barometers. If you sense that someone is lying to you, don’t make the person feel comfortable by agreeing, nodding, or laughing about it. A blank stare might do the trick in shutting down the lie.
- Call them out: Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to point out that something isn’t adding up. You could most certainly put it on yourself by saying “for some reason, I am confused. Can you explain that to me again?” In counseling sessions, the use of confrontation can be powerful if used appropriately and with tact. Confrontation does not mean creating an argument but creating an acknowledgment that information isn’t adding up. For example, a confrontation might include you stating “…that’s not what I see happening because I spoke with the Principal and he showed me documentation that you skipped school at 2:00pm on Monday.” Confrontation is using facts to undercut the lie.
- Play “stupid”: I use this technique quite a bit in sessions with adolescents and young children. If I want a youth to open up or I’m looking to build rapport I make statements such as “…that’s not what I was told, can you help me understand because I’m a bit confused?” Individuals who tend to lie are usually seeking some sort of power over others. If you are able to take a step back and appear unassuming, you can actually become the person “on top” and coax the individual into explaining things so you can evaluate it. You’re not trying to catch the person in a lie per se but to clarify information in a nonconfrontational manner.
- Don’t believe anything until you confirm it: Someone with a track record of lying behaviors should never be believed at face value. The moment you begin to appear as if you believe what the pathological liar is saying, they will run with it. Any kind of approval or trust the pathological liar can sense makes them feel powerful and energized to continue the behavior. It’s always good, when speaking to someone who frequently lies, to remain neutral, detached, and focused. You should weigh everything you are being told against the facts.
- Don’t argue or fight with the pathological liar: It’s not worth your energy to argue with someone who lives in a fantasy or psychologically unstable world. Most liars lack an identity and struggle with feelings of insecurity and abandonment. Other pathological liars are simply sociopathic and overly confident. Either way, don’t argue or get into a confrontation with the liar because they will use circular arguing, demean you, and possibly create more lies to use in the future (possibly against you). You will never get to the truth, even with the use of intimidation. In some cases, you might get only half of the truth. It’s best to step back, work around the pathological liar, and keeping a safe distance.
Pathological liars are difficult to live with or work with because you can’t determine what is true and what is false. You also cannot determine when the next lie will come. That’s why it’s important to understand their MO. I talk more about that in the video below:
Be mindful of your emotions and learn to question how you feel about what you are being told. Questions to ask yourself may include: “Do I feel comfortable with what is being said to me?” “Do I feel foolish or silly while listening to this story?” “Why am I questioning the legitimacy of what is being said to me right now?”
The most important goal for anyone who is dealing with a pathological liar is to always remember your dignity and self-respect. A pathological liar typically has little to no empathy and will take you as far as you let them.
To see my series of videos on this topic, visit my youtube page in the description below.
As always, I wish you well
Dike, C. (2008). Pathological lying: Symptom or disease? The Psychiatric Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014 from, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/pathological-lying-symptom-or-disease.
Winton, R. (2001). Panel ousts Judge for lying. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014 from, http://articles.latimes.com/2001/aug/16/local/me-34920.
This article was originally published on 4/5/2015 and updated 10/14/15, but has been updated to include videos and comprehensive information.